The first time I saw Srila Prabhupada he looked serene, sitting with one leg up behind a coffee-table-type desk. I was so nervous that my hand was shaking. I gave him the rose I had, laid down on the floor like the other devotees, and said my prayers in English. There were twelve of us, and when we all sat up Prabhupada said, “You are all very fortunate to come to Lord Chaitanya’s movement, and now that you are fortunate, you should make others fortunate. Preach this message of Lord Chaitanya all over the world.” He went on speaking for twenty minutes. He also said that if we served Vishnujana and Tamal nicely, he would be happy.
Prabhupada was sitting behind a coffee table giving darshan in a small room packed with people. Tamal Krishna Maharaj asked me to give sweets to guests as they left. So, while Prabhupada spoke, I sat at the door with a box of sweets. Then Prabhupada noticed someone outside the room and asked me to let him in. When I opened the door to let him in, another person went out the door at the same time. They crossed each other, and I didn’t give the person who left prasadam. Prabhupada asked me, “Did you give him prasadam?” I said, “No, Prabhupada.” Prabhupada said, “This boy is incompetent.” Tamal said, “All right, Gauridas, go downstairs and I will talk to you later.” I thought I was finished. That was it. After giving my whole life to Prabhupada, I had displeased him. I thought, “I am going to be sent to Africa or Bombay.” Prabhupada’s house was on the bank of the Ganges, and I went and sat on a rock in the river, remembering Vishnujana Swami and thinking that I should drown myself. I was crying. About twenty minutes later, Tamal Krishna Maharaj came. He laughed and said, “Gauridas, don’t take it so seriously. Go and clean Prabhupada’s room.” I was surprised because I thought that he was going to send me somewhere else. He had the authority to do that. I washed my face, straightened my dhoti, and went into Prabhupada’s room. Prabhupada was still sitting there. Upendra gave me a broom and said, “Sweep the floor here.” I started sweeping, feeling ashamed that I was such a fool. It seemed that Prabhupada was looking at me, so I looked at him. He was smiling like anything. All my anxiety went away. “Jaya, Prabhupada!” I started sweeping really fast.
On a morning walk on Magic Island in Hawaii, Srila Prabhupada looked at the surfers and said, “They are sea sufferers. They are preparing to take shark and dolphin bodies.” Another day he said of them, “They have mystic power. They are walking on water. I cannot do that.” Once he walked to the prasadam room and saw a grain of rice on the floor. He said, “Whoever had spilled that rice will have to suffer. That’s Krishna. Prasadam should not be wasted.” Another time Sukadev caught a bug and asked Prabhupada, “Prabhupada, what should I do with this bug?” Prabhupada said, “Put him out the window.” Sukadev said, “Who else can you ask, ‘What should I do with this bug?’ Anyone else would think that you were crazy. But you can ask Prabhupada anything.” Once, someone asked Prabhupada if they could get rid of the cockroaches in the temple by spraying them. Prabhupada said, “No. The cockroaches are there because you are too lazy to clean. Instead of cleaning, you leave the place dirty and kill the cockroaches.” Unless it was an extreme emergency, he didn’t want us to kill pests. In Bombay I had just become Prabhupada’s servant, when Tamal asked Prabhupada, “Can we kill mosquitoes?” Prabhupada said, “If they are biting you, you can kill them, but otherwise you shouldn’t.”
I was a fancy chamara fanner. In fact, I thought I was the best. So, in his garden for two to three hours every morning I would fan Prabhupada with the chamara. Prabhupada had three sets of japa beads, a little one, medium one, and a big one. They were all by his vyasasana, and he would pick whatever one he wanted that day. He was chanting with his eyes shut, and a fly landed right above his lip. I thought, “What am I going to do?” Without touching Prabhupada I tried to get the fly off him with my finger. But the fly kept walking around. He wouldn’t leave. After a minute, Prabhupada opened one eye and looked at me. I jumped back a little because I was so close to him. He said, “You are fanning around the world, but you can’t get the fly off my face. Give me that chamara.” He took the chamara and said, “Do this!” And he fanned the fly off his face. A few minutes later another fly landed on his face. I was a bit hesitant but I brushed his face with the chamara. He nodded and said, “Yes, very nice.”
The temple room was full of devotees, and one of the big book distributors asked, “Prabhupada, what pleases you the most?” Prabhupada said, “If you develop your love for Krishna that will please me the most.” It was really nice to hear that, and all the devotees said, “Jaya, Srila Prabhupada!”
In the morning Prabhupada would sit in the garden for two or three hours, from about 6:30 to 9:30, to chant, listen to kirtan, or to have letters read to him by Tamal and to dictate his answers. Tamal would type out Prabhupada’s response, read it to Prabhupada the next day, and Prabhupada would sign it. My duty in the garden was fanning Prabhupada with the chamara. Prabhupada was fond of the fountain and the sound it made, so the fountain was always running. One day when Tamal left the garden, Prabhupada noticed that his keys were on the ground. He told me, “Give me those keys.” I gave him the keys. He put them under his dhoti and told me to get Tamal. I ran out and told Tamal, “Prabhupada wants to see you.” He came. Prabhupada said, “I want my sapphire ring out of the safe.” Tamal said, “Yes, Prabhupada,” and left. About five minutes later Prabhupada said, “Go get Tamal again.” Tamal was tearing up his office, looking for the keys. He said, “Gauridas, have you seen my keys?” I didn’t want to lie to a sannyasi so I threw my hands up and looked dumb. I said, “Prabhupada wants to see you now.” He said, “Run to the bathroom and see if I have left the keys up there.” I said, “I can’t leave Prabhupada alone for that long. I have to go back to the garden.” Tamal came out, and Prabhupada said, “Where is my ring?” Tamal said, “I am just now getting it, Prabhupada. I will be right back,” and left again. Prabhupada shook his head, looked at me and smiled. He waited a few minutes and said, “Go get Tamal again.” This was the third time. Again Prabhupada said, “Where is my ring?” Tamal started to make another excuse. Prabhupada pulled out his keys, dangled them, and said, “Here, you rascal. If anything is stolen, it is your fault for giving the thief a chance.” Prabhupada was very conscious of security. Everything valuable had to be locked in the safe. He once said, “I have millions of dollars, but I don’t waste one farthing of Krishna’s money.” Another time Prabhupada was sick and had mucus in his eyes, so he sent Upendra to the store to get an eye rinse and a little glass to wash his eyes. When Upendra got back, Prabhupada asked him, “How much did you pay for the eye wash?” Upendra said, “Four rupees.” (At the time the exchange rate was sixteen rupees to a dollar, so it was about twenty-five cents.) Prabhupada said, “Four rupees? It’s only worth one rupee, maybe two, but you have spent four rupees. It’s a waste of Krishna’s money.” Prabhupada didn’t want to see any money wasted. To instruct us, he would chastise us, but the next minute he would smile at us. He didn’t hold a grudge. He chastised his disciples for their benefit, and even then he only did it when they could take it in the proper way.
Yasodanandan asked, “Prabhupada, you know what’s in your books, so why is it that you like to hear us read them to you?” Prabhupada said, “I didn’t write these books, Krishna wrote them.” One day Yasodanandan was reading Sri Isopanisad when Prabhupada asked him to reread one paragraph. After he’d heard it for the second time, Prabhupada said, “These are not my words. They are changing my words.” He turned to Tamal and said, “My English is not good?” Tamal said, “Your English is perfect, Prabhupada.” Prabhupada said, “Then why are they changing?” He said, “Do not become like a leap frog and try to jump over your spiritual master. This is the worst thing a disciple can do. Write them immediately and tell them not to change my books.” I never saw Prabhupada angrier than he was at that time. He wanted only spelling errors and grammatical errors changed, nothing else. In Vrindavan in 1977, the Gurukula was being built, and we carried Prabhupada in his rocking chair to take a tour of the building. As we went through the different areas, one devotee said, “This is my room, Prabhupada,” then another one said, “This is my room, Prabhupada.” Prabhupada was upset and said, “You are all concerned about your own rooms. I built this school for the children. Fill it up with students. This building is for the students.” As we carried him back to his quarters, the devotees in the temple saw Prabhupada passing by and chanted, “Jaya, Prabhupada, Jaya, Prabhupada!” Prabhupada said, “What are they chanting?” We said, “They are chanting, ‘Jaya, Prabhupada!’” He said, “I do not like this. Tell them to chant ‘Hare Krishna.’” He didn’t want the “Jaya, Prabhupadas” to go on and on.
In Hawaii, devotees would bring Prabhupada lots of tropical fruits like liliquio and passionfruits, but his favorite was mango. There are forty varieties of mango in Hawaii, so one devotee asked Prabhupada, “We have so many kinds of mangos here, which kind would you prefer?” Prabhupada said, “The ones from the eastern side of the tree.” He didn’t really care about the kind of mango, but he wanted those that grew on the eastern side of the tree because they got the morning sun, which gives prana (life energy) and made the best fruit.
Everyday Upendra and sometimes Bhakti Caru would spend three hours in the kitchen cooking a big lunch for Prabhupada, but when Upendra brought the plate, Prabhupada would wave it off, saying, “Distribute, distribute.” Once I was distributing Prabhupada’s lunch prasadam when he noticed the devotees picking and choosing, “I want this, I want that.” Prabhupada said, “Mix it all together. They should not discriminate.” So I mushed it all together so that the sweets, vegetables, and rice became a big mishmash. Then the devotees were making faces. Prabhupada said, “You shouldn’t discriminate.” Prabhupada hardly ate for a whole month. Then Nirjala Ekadasi came, and even though it was 110 degrees, Upendra and I fasted all day. In the evening I felt, “How can I continue this?” but somehow or other, I did it. The next morning I was extremely weak. At lunchtime Upendra brought Prabhupada his plate, and Prabhupada waved it off again. Upendra couldn’t believe it. He said, “Prabhupada, how is it that although we are young boys, when we fast for one day we can hardly move, yet here you are fasting for thirty days? How do you do it?” Prabhupada said, “I am living proof that the soul is not dependent on the body for sustenance, but rather the body is dependent on the soul.” We were overwhelmed. Prabhupada was getting ready to leave the planet and was completely Krishna conscious and free from bodily identification.
Of all the service I did for Prabhupada, it was the simplest thing that made him the happiest. I was sitting in front of his desk, waiting for him to come, and reading Srimad-Bhagavatam, Fourth Canto, Part Four. That night he came a little earlier than I expected, and as soon as I saw him, I put the book on his desk and paid my obeisances. Prabhupada asked me, “What are you reading?” I said, “It’s your Srimad-Bhagavatam, Srila Prabhupada.” He smiled like anything and said to Tamal Krishna, “This is very good. He is reading in his spare time. This is very good.” I thought, “Wow!” Out there in the 110-degree sun, spraying the windows, and he didn’t say anything, but when he saw me reading, he was very pleased.
Svarup Damodar Maharaj came to the garden in the morning. There were only a couple of people there. He sat a distance away, and Prabhupada asked, “Who is that?” I said, “That is Svarup Damodar Maharaj.” He said, “Call him over here.” So Svarupa Damodar Maharaj sat right by Prabhupada and began telling Prabhupada about a program in Bombay that he had just held to preach Krishna consciousness to scientists. On hearing this report Prabhupada beamed and then commented, “I appeared in this world for two reasons, to establish Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead and to defeat these rascal scientists. You are doing this. I am very pleased.” He went on for a couple of hours talking about this. He wanted it very much.
Tamal mentioned to Prabhupada that devotees had been investigating Vishnujana’s whereabouts. They had his passport. He couldn’t have left India without it, and he didn’t apply for a new one. Some brahmans came to the Delhi temple and said that a white sannyasi in Prayag, the place where Chota Haridas committed suicide, had paid them to take him on a boat and to chant mantras so that he wouldn’t take a ghost body. They said that this person had tied rocks to himself and jumped off the boat. When the devotees put all the pieces together, they realized that that must have been Vishnujana. Tamal said, “We think that he committed suicide.” Prabhupada began to cry. He said, “Vishnujana didn’t have to do that.” Tamal asked, “Prabhupada, do you know where Vishnujana is?” Prabhupada said, “He is very advanced. He is still chanting Hare Krishna.” About two weeks later, Prabhupada woke up one morning and said that Vishnujana had been chanting to him. Similarly, after Chota Haridas committed suicide, Lord Chaitanya had heard Chota Haridas chanting.
One morning I noticed that there was a little bush in his garden with four white flowers. They looked like small gardenias and smelled wonderful. I picked them and put them on the pillow of Prabhupada’s vyasasana. When he came, Prabhupada picked them up, started smelling them, and held them the whole two hours that he was there. The next morning he put his hand out to me and I thought, “He wants flowers, but that little bush won’t have any more flowers because I picked them all yesterday.” To my surprise there were eight flowers on that tiny plant. I picked all eight and gave them to Prabhupada. He smelled them and said, “Smelling this type of flower regulates your life airs.” Everyday after that this little bush would produce a bunch of flowers that I offered to Prabhupada. Mystically, Krishna was directly protecting Prabhupada and providing for him.
At about 7:00 a.m., Prabhupada’s car pulled up in front of the temple. He got out of the car and into a rocking chair we had ready because by this time he was too weak to walk. He said, “Take me to see the Deities.” So we carried him in front of Gaura-Nitai. Prabhupada stood up and paid his respects. Tears began to come down his cheeks. He started to sit down but somebody had taken the chair away and he almost fell. Tamal Krishna and another devotee had to support him. All the devotees were looking at each other thinking, “Wow, Prabhupada is sick.” Then he went to Krishna-Balaram’s altar and stood up again, but this time the chair was held there. Again, tears came down his cheeks. Finally he went to Radha Shyamasundar, Lalita, and Visakha, and gazed at Them for a while. Then he turned and said, “I want to see all the devotees in my room.” We carried him to his room, where he sat behind his desk as all the devotees packed into the room. There wasn’t enough room for everyone, so devotees were looking in the doors and windows. There were devotees everywhere. Prabhupada said, “I have come here to leave my body, but you should not lament because I have given you everything in my books. If you simply read my books and cooperate with your God-brothers, everything will go on nicely.” Some of the devotees began to cry, “Oh, no, Prabhupada, you can’t leave us.” Prabhupada said the same thing again, “I am in my books; read my books and cooperate.”